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Expert Comment: Rebekah Brooks arrest

Newspapers Friday 18 May 2012

Paddy Hoey, Lecturer in the Department of Politics, History, Media and Communication at Liverpool Hope, looks at the latest development in the 'phone hacking scandal.

There is a real sense that the Leveson Inquiry is getting to the core of its job and that a new world beckons for the British print media and its regulation.

Away from the inquiry Rebekah Brooks, a former editor of the News of the World, chief executive of News International and close Rupert Murdoch aide, was charged with three counts of conspiracy to obstruct the course of justice relating to police investigations into phone hacking. Above and beyond phone hacking, Brooks’ case is in many ways fundamental to the future of the British press and the media in general.

Brooks was the link between the current government and the Murdoch empire, the outcome of her case could go on to be deeply instructive for those holding power and those seeking to influence it.

Whether a product of Machiavellian impulses on either side, or as a product of a friendship between the Prime Minister David Cameron and Brooks’ racehorse trainer husband, Charlie, critics on all sides have caught not just the whiff of corruption and scandal, but an overpowering foetid stench.

The close ties to the Murdoch empire (by the last two governments) were based on more than friendships forged on the playing fields of Eton or at gatherings of the Chipping Norton set; they were based on the fear of the political elites of losing the support of the Murdoch news operations in Britain. The power of the Murdoch press in the 1980s and 1990s remains fresh in the minds of politicians and central to university curricula on media and democracy in Britain.

Tony Blair successfully courted the Murdoch press and that has deeply influenced the current Tory administration. Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt is up soon at Leveson, where he will be questioned about hundreds of pages of emails between his office and a Murdoch company lobbyist during negotiations over whether News Corporation should be allowed to take-over BskyB. Blair’s approach to Murdoch resonates with the Conservatives and Hunt is alleged to have described the former Labour Prime Minister as ‘our Bill Clinton.’

So what is the future in the wake of all this? Well, the government green paper on the future of the media which was expected in early autumn might have to be postponed (again), or indeed shelved altogether, if Jeremy Hunt is caught in the flak caused by the case. Certainly, any minister outlining the future of public service broadcasting in Britain, but who has identifiable links to the Murdoch empire, would appear, to be ideologically compromised. Any government that has deep set links with the Murdoch empire would also be on un-firm ground suggesting widespread reforms which would benefit commercial broadcasters like News Corporation.

What future for the deeply troubled press? There will be fundamental reform. The current Press Complaints Commission has to be given further powers, but powers which stop short of statutory regulation, something that those involved on all sides want to avoid.

However, the real question is that if we stop short of regulating the press, and the political influence of the media becomes ever more pronounced in this media age, how long will it be before we revisit the sins of the very recent past?



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